By MATTHEW WEAVER
Wolves are still active in northeast Washington even after state wildlife managers killed seven of the predators earlier this year.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reported wolf tracks observed Nov. 10 in the Wedge Pack area. The area is in northern Stevens County and is bordered by Canada and the Columbia and Kettle rivers.
Steve Pozzanghera, regional director of the department in Spokane, said data indicate two wolves are in the area, although where they're coming from is unknown.
"We've had questions of 'Does that mean these are remaining members of the Wedge pack that were not killed?' and 'Does that mean these are new dispersers into the area?'" Pozzanghera said. "The short answer is we don't know."
Len McIrvin, owner of the Diamond M Ranch in Laurier, Wash., where the Wedge pack attacked livestock last summer, said he saw fresh wolf tracks shortly after the state sharpshooter killed the pack members. He has continued to lose calves, he said, although no kills could be documented as wolf-caused in the rough country.
"The ones we found through the summer, I think was just kind of the Lord willing we found them," he said, noting he's observed mothers return with their udders drying up, indicating the loss of a calves.
McIrvin estimated he's lost 40 calves, or 20 percent of the cattle in the area. He's in the process of finishing fall roundup, and will soon have an exact total.
"It's an opportunity for us to try again, and do better," said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest. "I don't know that life often allows for quick re-dos of failures, and here we get a chance to do that."
There's half a year before ranchers can turn out calves onto public lands, Friedman said, and the tools are already available to help them, requiring earnest effort. Those options include turning out larger calves later, complete removal of carcasses as quickly as possible, wire and flagery at calving areas and range riders.
"Not every guy with a hat and horse is a range rider," he said. "A range rider is trained and stays with that herd, keeps them bunched up 24-7." Cow weights were above-average and not a single calf was lost in the Smackout Pack range rider pilot program this summer, Friedman said.
He expects his group to turn to the state Legislature next as it focuses on the Wedge pack killing and what policies should be for grazing on public land.
Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, has also heard reports of wolf sightings east of Enumclaw, Wash.
Field wants to ensure the department has tools to protect the ungulate population so that wolves don't turn to livestock for their prey.
He expects Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island, Wash., and chair of the state senate's Energy, Natural Resources and Marine Waters committee, will hold a fact-finding hearing and update in January. Ranker has expressed concern over killing the Wedge pack wolves.
Field said the biggest challenge is funding for the state's wolf management plan.
"This cannot be something that's funded out of the wildlife account off the backs of hundreds of sportsmen," he said. "The entire population needs to share in the economic burden that species management and recovery brings."
The department hopes to communicate with any rancher moving onto an allotment where wolves are present that tools are available such as range riders and use of radio collars to monitor wolf locations.
Turning out cattle in early June, at the same time there is a wild food source in the form of ungulates like deer, elk and moose reduces pressure on livestock, Pozzanghera said.
The agency has cost-share opportunities for operators, Pozzanghera said.
McIrvin said his ranch is using range riders and he and department workers have been working to provide an increased human presence.
Wolves preyed on cattle on his private property and state and federal lands he leases.
"I have never heard anything that would be helpful to stop losses other than what they did, take out the pack," McIrvin said. "I don't know what the next step would be until we go broke."